When Mr March, abolitionist and the father of Louisa May Alcott’s four Little Women, volunteers to serve as a chaplain in the American Civil War, he doesn’t know that the upcoming months will be different from what he expects. Following an incident involving a black woman, March is transferred south to Oak Landing, a cotton plantation, where it is his task to establish a school for the workers’ children. Even though slavery has been abolished in the area it is still in people’s minds, which March only starts to realize when he sets foot on Oak Landing.
Geraldine Brooks crafted Mr March after Louisa May Alcott’s father Bronson Alcott and used his 61 journals and 37 manuscript volumes full of letters as an inspiration. So when Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau pop up as friends of the family in March, the author is really talking about the two transcendentalists.
While March is well-researched, the storyline is nothing special. Frankly speaking, I’m having problems thinking of something to write about March that stands out, may it be positive or negative, but nothing really comes to mind. This novel is a solid work of historical fiction that will keep you entertained, so if that is all you want, go for it! It might even do more for you.
Today I’d like to show you a book that surprised me, because, judging the book by its cover, I thought this would be your usual coming-of-age fare. The novel is How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran and I’d like to thank HarperCollins International for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes—and build yourself.
It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Bröntes—but without the dying young bit.
By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock-stars, having all the kinds of sex with all kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.
But what happens when Johanna realizes she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all?
How to Build a Girl is set in England in the 1990s. To be more specific, our main character Johanna lives in Wolverhampton, about two hours north of London.
We accompany Johanna Morrigan through the worst of her teenage years. Johanna is a chubby girl who wants to change the way people see her. This is why she reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde, a goth and music critic who has seen it all. While I can absolutely identify with Johanna, I’m having problems with Dolly. Sure, like Johanna, Dolly has traits that remind me of my teenage self (very spooky!), but sometimes I get the feeling that Dolly’s character is a bit over the top. I can’t think of any person I know who, as a teenager, behaved like Dolly – and I was in the goth and heavy metal scene myself for some time.
Overall, reading How to Build a Girl feels like traveling back in time. I got to relive my teenage years with a different perspective. The novel is fun and includes bite-sized historical background information for those who aren’t that familiar with the UK in the 1990s. How to Build a Girl is the perfect read for 20- and 30-somethings, as they can relate to the 1990s setting and connect with Johanna/Dolly.
We’re back from our short but busy trip to Frankfurt Book Fair. In those few days, we met wonderful people, walked many miles, saw beautiful books and learned a lot.
Our trip started with a snow storm that delayed our departure and arrival. The late arrival also prevented us from visiting the fair on Friday. Therefore, we weren’t able to meet Megan from Harper Collins International Sales who had to leave that day. We would have loved to chat with her but the weather and traffic weren’t on our side that day.
On Saturday, I met Kirsty Wilson from Canongate, who was awesome. She was flexible enough to just squeeze our interview between two appointments. Ain’t that great? After my interview with Kirsty, Miss Treegarden and I went to a Lovelybooks get-together to meet all those people I only knew from the internet. The only problem was that it was pretty cold and everyone wore jackets or coats that kept the unique blog t-shirts some attendees wore hidden. I only recognized the two girls working for Lovelybooks, the other attending people will stay a mystery to me. 😀
After the get-together, Miss Treegarden and I had a little stroll through halls 3.0 and 3.1 which are halls full of German publishers’ booths. These halls got overcrowded quickly, so Miss Treegarden and I decided to separate and she went to see the other German halls, while I went back to lovely and quiet hall 8.0, the international hall. It’s a little sad to see the difference between the international hall and the German halls, because you notice that the Germans don’t seem to be that interested in international literature. Still, it had a good side that hall 8.0 wasn’t crowded: I had room to roam 🙂 At the Telegram, Saqi, Westbourne Press booth, I had a great talk with Ashley Biles who supplied me with two interesting books. Thank you! A few rows down, at the Chronicle Books booth, I stumbled upon this wonderful poster. I even got a paper cup of Grumpy Cat to take home 😀
On Sunday, time was short. We only had four hours until our departure. Nevertheless, we attended a talk by Frank Grafe of Random House Germany, who told us about their publishing house and the work they do at the book fair. Later on, I met lovely Thérèse Coen from Bloomsbury for an interview. We had a great chat and I left with a wonderful present, a book I’ve been waiting to read for months. Thank you SO much. I noticed much later just how precious this present was. At the bus on our way home, I had a closer look and saw that it was signed. I was barely able to breathe. Oh wow Thérèse, you sure made my week! After another quick stroll through hall 8.0, I had to say goodbye to my favorite hall, as I planned to join Miss Treegarden for a book signing that was very important to her. On our way out of the fair grounds, we also got a quick look at Cecilia Ahern (P.S. I Love You), who was also signing books at the fair. Boy, isn’t she young?
Our days at Frankfurt Book Fair had come to an end and we had to board the bus back home again. Before leaving for Frankfurt, I was a little worried, but now, I’m glad everything worked out fine. I’m sure, I’ll be back soon. This was only a quick roundup of our trip. I promise you’ll read more about it in the upcoming weeks!